Appendix 72b - Drug Lords

by Michael Greger, MD and United Progressive Alumni

[ Medical School Resources | Appendices | Discussion ]

No one should approach the temple of science with the soul of a money changer - Sir Thomas Browne

According to Fortune magazine, the pharmaceutical industry is the most profitable industry in the United States.[862] The amount spent on drug research and development by the pharmaceutical industry in 1991 totals $9 billion. The amount spent on sales and marketing? $10 billion.[863] An estimated $6 billion of which is spent on promotions to individual physicians,[864] an estimated $8000 per physician per year.[865]

And even the research that is done is subordinated to an immediate commercial profit, not long term social benefit.[866] Cancer for instance. According to the British Cancer Control Society, "Economics and politics simply intertwine in shaping conventional medicine's approach to cancer. Very simply put, treating disease is enormously profitable, preventing disease is not."[867]

Even down to the level of the individual scientists, humanitarian concerns are often not at the forefront. Famous biochemist, Nobel Laureate Dr. Szent-Gyorgi, at a 1961 international medical congress:

The desire to alleviate suffering is of small value in research - such a person should be advised to work for charity. Research wants egoists, damned egoists, who seek their own pleasure and satisfaction, but find it in solving the puzzles of nature.

Bryan Malloy, the inventor of Prozac, was asked, "how does it make you feel to know that what you have done has helped people...." He replied:

This puts me in a somewhat embarrassing position.... The company puts itself in the position of saying it is here to help people, and I'm here saying I didn't do it for that. I just wanted to do it for the intellectual high. It looked like scientific fun.[868]

One physician cures you of the colic; two physicians cure you of the medicine - Vincent J. Derbes[869]

Of the 348 new drugs introduced by the 25 largest U.S. drug manufacturers between 1981 and 1988, the Food and Drug Administration rated only 3% (12 drugs) as having, "important potential contribution to existing therapies." The vast majority were rated by the FDA as having, "little or no potential contribution."[870] Most were categorized as "me-too" or "copycat" drugs, scramblings by companies to grab at market share by mimicking profitable competing drugs.[871]

Dr. Walter Modell of Cornell University Medical College was quoted in Time almost 40 years ago:

When will they realize that there are too many drugs? No fewer than 150,000 preparations are now in use. About 15,000 new mixtures and dosages hit the market each year, while about 12,000 die off.... We simply don't have enough diseases to go around. At the moment the most helpful contribution is the new drug to counteract the untoward effect of other new drugs.

Even for projects with potential, should a single dollar be spent on biomedical research in a world where children go blind for lack of a simple vitamin? We already know that cure. And resource allocation arguments aren't just limited to treatment. The average annual cost per life "saved" by mammography is around $1.2 million.[872] Women starve to death in this world.



[862] Fortune 23 April 1990:391.

[863] Sherrill, R. "Medicine and the Madness of the Market." Nation 9 January 1995:44-71.

[864] "Pharmaceuticals, Inc." PNHP Newsletter 1999(March):5.

[865] Gibbons, RV, et al. "A Comparison of Physicians' and Patients' Attitudes towards Pharmaceutical Industry Gifts." Journal Of General Internal Medicine 13(1998):151-154.

[866] Nouvelle Critique, France, May 1961.

[867] British Cancer Control Society. Outrage, 1986(October/November).

[868] Bulger RJ. "The Quest for Mercy. The Forgotten Ingredient In Health Care Reform." Western Journal of Medicine 168(1998):54-72.

[869] Beaudoin, C, et al. "Clinical Teachers as Humanistic Caregivers and Educators." Canadian Medical Association Journal 159(1998):765-769.

[870] Randall, T. "Does Advertising Influence Physicians?" Journal of the American Medical Association 265(1991):443.

[871] Baker D. "The Real Drug Crisis." In These Times 22 August 1999:19-21.

[872] Wright, CJ and CB Mueller. "Screening Mammography and Public Health Policy." The Lancet 346(1995):29-32.



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